Ryan Merritt threw 6.2 shutout innings on the way to a 4-0 win against the Royals.
Ryan Merritt may not have the best stuff of anyone on the Indians’ 40-man roster. While we all know that he’s never going to blow anyone away, we also know that he is capable of unflappable, strong performances. Even though Merritt allowed runners to reach second and/or third multiple times on Friday night against the Kansas City Royals, he never allowed any of those runners to cross home plate. After 6.2 IP, Merritt allowed 7 hits, walked one, and struck out three, as the Royals stranded 8 runners on base, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. As the Indians won 4-0, they earned their major league-leading 13th shutout of the year.
What impressed me about Merritt’s performance was the fact that even when he was in trouble, he still managed to neutralize the Royals and get out of the inning. I was a bit worried early in the game – Merritt stranded runners on second and third in the second inning, and then gave up a lead-off double to Alex Gordon in the third inning. Just as he was unfazed by Toronto’s loaded lineup during the ALCS, Merritt was not frazzled by any kind of threat from the Royals. With both Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin on the DL, the Indians needed a strong performance from Merritt (and may need it again in the future).
The bottom of the Indians’ lineup came up big on Thursday night against the Red Sox, and they had another big night on Friday for the Tribe. Yan Gomes singled to lead off the bottom of the third inning, and was doubled home by Giovanny Urshela. Urshela later scored on an Austin Jackson single to make the game 2-0. In the fifth inning, Urshela singled and scored on a Francisco Lindor home run, to make the score 4-0.
While the Indians didn’t need any more runs, they did blow a few prime opportunities to add onto their lead. In the sixth inning they had runners on first and second with just one out, and were unable to score. That was nothing compared to what happened in the seventh inning – the type of inning that would’ve been infuriating in a closer game. Francisco Lindor singled to lead off the inning, then made it to third on a stolen base attempt and a throwing error. It seemed like the Indians would be able to pad their lead with an extra insurance run, with a runner on third and nobody out. However, the Royals were able to get out of the inning with Lindor stranded at third.
The bullpen was strong for the Indians, with good outings from Joe Smith and Cody Allen. Allen came in with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but seemed to have some serious command issues to open the bottom of the ninth inning. However, he quickly got things under control and had a 1-2-3 inning.
It’s important for the Indians to win these late-season series against division foes, and this gets them off to a great start for the weekend. While this win puts the Royals 7 games back, it also ensures that the best they could do is leave town 5 games out, even if they win the next two. This late in the season, you almost have to sweep the series against the teams in front of them to gain considerable ground against them. With Friday night’s win, the Indians ensured that could not happen this weekend.